I'm not talking about organized religious observances, though. I'm talking about playgroup.
When my sister-in-law mentioned creating a mom's group a few months ago, the only reason I agreed to join was because she and one of my best girl friends were starting it together, and I adore them and their kids. I'd heard other girl friends who were already moms talking about playgroup for years, and the concept never made sense to me. But these kids are too young to really play together, I thought at the time. And if they have brothers and sisters at home, they already have someone they need to learn to share with. Is this really necessary? I envisioned infants lined up on blankets on the floor at first, barely registering each other's presence. I imagined toddlers crashing into each other later, swiping each other's toys and germs while screams reverberated throughout the house. I entertained horrible daydreams of harried mothers chasing after their offspring in semi-crouched positions, chanting, No-no, Sydney or Put that down, Taylor or Do you have to tinkle in the potty, Carson? or Roger, take your foot off that baby's neck! It wasn't so much playgroup in my mind as revenge-of-the-procreated.
But my love for these two women and their babies was such that I swallowed my fears and agreed to participate. The first meeting was being held at my girl friend's house, no more than a mile away from my own -- close enough to dash home if it all got to be too much for me or boy. So we arrived, and hesitantly joined the group sitting around a central floor space. There were four other mommies and babies that day, with boy being the oldest infant in attendance. The moms represented a mix of stay-at-homers like myself, and working moms like my sister-in-law and girl friend. We came from all different cultural backgrounds, and worked in wildly different fields, from family therapy to chiropractic medicine to personal training. In fact, really the only thing we had in common was motherhood, and yet that commonality was a bond so true that we felt like instant friends. The more we chatted, the easier the conversation flowed. I left that day extremely glad I'd agreed to attend in the first place, and hoping the feeling would last.
Since then, I've been to playgroup four more times, and hosted it once as well. And to my surprise, I've realized that it's one of the bright spots in my week. There are only a few rules about playgroup:
1. You don't talk about playgroup. Ever.
1. The woman who hosts doesn't have to cook. The other moms bring food to share.
2. Come when you can.
3. Stay as long as you want.
4. Leave when you need to.
5. No obligations. If you have to miss a week, no worries. And if you can't bring food every time, no one's taking names.
Those are the only stated rules, but I think there are other unspoken ones, too. Like, "enjoy your kid and everyone else's." Which is easy to do -- the kids are all so flipping cute, really. I'm not just saying that. And, "don't compare kids." This is the one I was worried about, and it's a breeze. The kiddos are all at such different stages and such wildly different little people that there's no chance we can compare kids. And my favorite, "no judgment allowed." No matter who's breastfeeding or not, who's sleeping through the night or not, who's working or staying home, who's lost their baby weight or not ... it just isn't important. I never expected to feel so free to just be myself, and the freedom is delicious. As one mother put it, "It's so great to hang out with people who are going through the same things you are, right now. Someone always has an extra diaper or more diaper wipes. Someone else is just as sleep-deprived as you are. And maybe most importantly, everyone has been the one whose kid is having a rough day. No one shoots you dirty looks if your baby's crying, or tries to tell you you're doing something wrong if he or she is fussy."
Maybe everyone needs playgroup. Maybe the world would be a better place if everyone set aside a few hours a week to gather with others who had one major thing in common with them, in an environment free of judgment or criticism. Maybe all of us should have a group of people who get together around pasta salad, brownies from Whole Foods and sparkling water periodically to support each other and learn from one another.
And maybe playgroup's more like a faith community than I thought it was. (Except for the part about crying babies. It's WAY easier to be the mom of a loud infant when the women around you are playing, not praying.)